Monthly Archives: March 2011

Punch Your Laptop in the Neck

The Art of Manliness had a post recently on doing some writing physically instead of digitally, although one still uses the fingers with a pencil (is this mic on? anyone?). It’s obvious that it’s a post to chat-up some sponsors’ products — we all do it — but the Manliness’ penchant for the traditional and old-school to monetize on the Mad Men demo is charming, if not “gassed up past the cap” at times, if you know what I mean.

One of the products featured was a small, weatherproof notebook. I had a post way back when about an old notebook I got off of ebay that I carry around to write down thoughts or story ideas. I have a handheld voice recorder but I’m not going to be caught dead being one of those guys dictating profound, stupid ideas in public. I have too much introversion and not the proper hat for it. The journal is more of a keepsake for me to pass down to show how unremarkable my penmanship was, but it still serves a practical service in the now.

My next step, after filling up the current notebook with nonsense, is to get an unlined notebook, to start my graphic sensibilities into fluster. Exit question: do digital writing tablets achieve the same “personal” touch that handwriting does, or is it a lesser facsimile of the real thing?

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The Problem of Tyre

If you’re new here, I posted near the end of 2010 that I was reading through the entire Bible in 90 days so that I could do a book review on it. Since it’s a large book (actually a compilation of books), the review will have some meat to it, but it will also have some focus.

I came across something that wouldn’t fit the review but I wanted to bring up nonetheless, which is the prophecy of Tyre in the book of Ezekiel (chapter 29, verses 19-21):

This is what the Sovereign LORD says: When I make you a desolate city, like cities no longer inhabited, and when I bring the ocean depths over you and its vast waters cover you, then I will bring you down with those who go down to the pit, to the people of long ago. I will make you dwell in the earth below, as in ancient ruins, with those who go down to the pit, and you will not return or take your place in the land of the living. I will bring you to a horrible end and you will be no more. You will be sought, but you will never again be found, declares the Sovereign LORD.

This prophecy interested me because it’s easily verifiable: does Tyre exist today or not? That would confirm or negate Ezekiel 26 (read all of 26 here).

Tyre was a major Phoenician seaport in Ezekiel’s time, 6th century BCE. It was actually in two places: the small island off the coast of modern-day Lebanon and the mainland center. Ezekiel predicted that “many nations” would come against Tyre, starting with Nebuchadnezzar. The mainland city was completely destroyed by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE, where he dragged the rubble of mainland Tyre into the Mediterranean to build a causeway for his troops to reach the island city-Tyre.

It can be argued that Tyre was rebuilt because, uh, there’s a city called Tyre there today.

Putting that fact aside for now, there is some ambiguity in Ezekiel around who does what. It’s implied (not very strongly) that the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar would lay waste to Tyre. He attacked it for 13 years, starting in 585 BCE, but by no means destroyed it to the extent Ezekiel says. Ezekiel switched from “he”, meaning Nebuchadnezzar, to “they”, meaning the “many nations”, from verse 11 to 12. Tyre still stood after Nebuchadnezzar — it would have to be there in some form if other nations would have a crack at it. At worst it looks like Ezekiel is guilty of switching subjects using pronouns without warning — although in the original Hebrew the distinction might be more pronounced.

The easiest way to understand it is to think of “Tyre” metonymically, as Tyre the great Phoenician seaport, not as literal land or a city called Tyre — much in the same way we use Silicon Valley to refer to the tech companies of the San Francisco Bay area and not the actual valley’s geography. This would make sense since Tyre is mentioned many times after Ezekiel as an existing place (Jesus even preached there). The subsequent “rebuilding” of Tyre wasn’t considered to be the same Tyre Ezekiel mentioned, which was now underwater.

So is Ezekiel a false prophet or was Tyre completely destroyed? I could go on, but there’s a lot online about it already:

Alec Field has a nice summary here.
Errancy.org (great site) believes Tyre was rebuilt here.
Aboutbibleprophecy explains Ezekiel’s pronoun juggling here.
Ray Simmons has more details and footnotes at Greatmercy.org here.
Mark Taunton wrote a good analysis on a forum here.
On the same forum, there’s a good back and forth on the Tyre prophecy here.

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HuffPo May Get a Few Scabs in Need of a Good Picketing

Journalism union The Newspaper Guild doesn’t like the fact that non-journalist rubes have have exercised their right of free association and contract when agreeing to write for HuffPo, for free.

Guild organizer Lauri Lebo said this:

“People write for free with the idea that they can get this mass exposure,” she said. “As for The Huffington Post, their success was built on the backs of unpaid labor. They’re exploiting these journalists who still passionately believe in journalism and believed their exposure in The Huffington Post would move them forward.”

Now I have some personal interest in this as a paid freelance writer for Noisecreep, which is currently owned by HuffPo/AOL, but that is secondary to this story. The Guild is upset that the hopes of these “citizen journalists” have been dashed, which is apparently HuffPo’s fault. If there was some breach of contract then they have a case, but there’s no way a business would or could guarantee someone can “move forward” — unless they are coerced by law to promote all those scary, unwashed, uneducated people with Internet access. The real crime, besides the forced class warfare rhetoric, is that the Guild just doesn’t like unpaid rubes stepping on their hallowed grounds, taking “their” work and possibly producing articles that are just as good.

It’s interesting that Lebo would say this, since writing for free is how 99.8% off all blogs are existing in the first place. This leads me to believe that this is not really about unpaid labor but more about a union power grab.

My prediction is that if HuffPo is forced to pay their writers we’ll see something akin to what happens with minimum wage laws and “fair trade” plans. Their ad rates will have to rise to pay everyone (in which case the poorer business will get less exposure or have to raise their consumer prices to compensate), or, more likely, HuffPo will hire the more popular unpaids and let go of the rest. The most “unqualified” and less experienced writers — probably students, interns, career-changers — will have one less (very huge) outlet to gain recognition and to stage actual, material advancement. The bottom few rungs of the ladder will have been smashed away, leaving behind those that the lawmakers purport to help.

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Not About Writing: Life in Your Way Fundraises

More than a month ago I posted about a friends’ band reuniting. Since they don’t have traditional label support they’ve started a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to cover the costs of producing their new album. It kicked off only a few days and already they’ve collected about $8,712 of their $12,500 goal (the donations grow as I keep writing this!). They have until April 20th to lock in the goal and it looks like they will reach it, and I’m sure this inspiring video has plenty to do with the high level of response.

This response is really wondrous for a number of reasons. First, the donor prizes listed on the right that the band is offering (one of the more daring ones is the permission to choose the middle name of the next child born to one of the band members). Another is the fact that, even though the band is releasing “Kingdoms” for free, people are still paying them in advance to produce it. They are somewhat of an established band, though, but it’s a good sign that bands are able to continue with their artistry with the music industry being in such tumult.

Even though this post “isn’t about writing”, it really is — at least partially. Life in Your Way’s new release is actually split into three EPs, each dealing with a different type of spiritual kingdom: the Kingdom of Man, the Kingdom of Darkness, the Kingdom of God. I don’t know exactly what the treatment will be, but the idea of each mini-release addressing specific subjects — subjects that seem to supplant one another, chronologically/eschatologically speaking, if we are looking at these similar to how the Bible sees them — is an interesting one, grand in scope and execution. This is a matter, that those of us who believe the same things Life in You Way believe, of the utmost, urgent weightiness; I and many other people can’t wait to see how the power of their music and Josh’s written words will meet this ultimate issue.

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How to Run a Blog Contest Like a Classy Hooker

If you’re managing your writing or publishing blog correctly — and the jury is still out on whether I am doing it right — you’re pretty much prostituting yourself to get those uniques and Adsense hits. Like any real-life professional sex worker you’ve probably had a contest by now, either for a new book you’ve been coerced to jock or for some immaterial brownie points for networking with fellow writer-blogger-hookers. And that’s my last analogical reference to prostitution in this post.

I’ve done a few small contests in my day here and here, but not anything really elaborate — which is the point of this post. You see, people who have free stuff automatically have power to make other bloggers do stupid and pointless things, and coupling that power with the sorta-anonymous cloak of invisibility the Internet gives us, bloggers can be stupid and pointless enough to actually do them.

Here’s a few tips to inject some class into your contest, because owning a power doesn’t mean you need to use it to its fullest extent. I invite you to be a lady or gentleman about what’s been given to you. Just keep in mind this only one person’s opinion. There are author-bloggers who are much more successful doing the very same things I’m telling you not to do, so you can regard everything I say here as some dude complaining instead of writing — and you’d be pretty accurate.

I’m also going to apologize in advance for not bolding my main points or providing numbered steps so you can skim and not actually read anything, and thus is my first point. Some bloggers write their posts with only two or three short sentences per paragraph, complete with meaningless acronyms, over-formatted text, and questionable word choices. This is acceptable on contest posts in order to summarize and draw attention to the main steps, but to me it’s developing into a very generically blog-centric writing habit. I expect it from people who have a blogger’s soul, but when it comes to people who are traditional writers I would expect something more content-oriented. I like words on a page screen, not an ocular obstacle course.

So, you have something people want and are willing to do some strange things for it, but try to exhibit some restraint. Perhaps it’s best to consider it, in the words of the fabulous Kirk Lazarus, not “going full retard” in the Internet world. If your blog is unlike this and has lots of acolytes, you can get away with asking them to photograph themselves licking a dead cat’s fungal ear canal for a free hardcover of the Flirty Fictional Romance and you know by sheer statistics that a few of your readers will actually go through with it. To wit, it’s a little much to ask them to subscribe to your Twitter and like your Facebook, and ask for daily retweets or blog posts, 500 by 500 pixel graphic banner insertions, overdone guest blogging extravaganzas, calls for essays on how you’d be the best Aleutian Islander, and your firstborn’s frozen umbilical cord blood overnighted to the author’s doorstep. You assuredly can do this, but you may want to ask yourself if you should. Pulling off contests takes an even hand; a polite request for a comment or a blog subscription shows simple respect and sophistication.

The capstone of this sophistication is humility. You are doing a great service for the author, your readers, and the literary world in general, but as a friend of mine often says: we’re not saving lives here. Books are important but publishing and everyone’s existential well-being will probably still remain without our online presence. With this in mind, talking up your contest too much while it’s still running might come off as desperate or, worse, overbearing. Reminders are fine, particularly through Twitter and the like, but devoting too much time to slapping the back of our heads with “dont 4get ’bout da contest!!11” announcements will be tiresome. Another solution would be to include a sidebar or navigation item that mentions some words about the current contest, that way it’s always present but not at the forefront.

To recap: contests, good; overplaying your hand, bad. Now go forth, respect your readers, and forthwith dispense your literary baubles by the ephah.

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I’ll Trade You Your Whitman For My Ten Copies of This Cummings Anthology

Having been through media criticism courses in college, this comes as an interesting development. Seaton writes, concerning Canton and Cox’s Literature and the Economics of Liberty:

Free markets, like languages, thus exemplify not anarchy but “spontaneous order.” Well-written poems, plays, and novels, on the other hand, are typically the result of a single individual who sees to it that each part of the work contributes to the overall design. It is not surprising, then, that those who derive their notion of excellence from works of literature would find it hard to appreciate the workings of the market, where everybody tries to satisfy his own needs, and nobody seems to be concerned about the whole. A socialist economy, where planners organize all economic activity in the interests of the whole, seems much more intellectually and aesthetically satisfying than the market, even if the latter generates wealth and the former poverty.

From the book summary on Amazon:

Literary critics particularly those influenced by Marxism often turn texts and the characters they represent into predictable products of their environments. They view literature as the product of determinate economic and social circumstances, and authors as captives of class consciousness.
This book pursues economic interpretations of literature while respecting the freedom and creativity of authors. To do so, it draws upon a form of economics the Austrian School that places freedom and creativity at the center of its understanding of human action.

Marxist thought is pretty much thoroughly inescapable in public education, more so at the university level (just tally up the disciplines that hold the premise that human behavior is predictable and humans are a “product of their environment”). You would think that among such a seemingly diverse set of modes of literary criticism — gender, feminist, ethnic, semiotic, etc. — there would be room to stick in something that hints at praxeology. But given the comprehensiveness of the Marxist religious belief system (yeah, it’s a religion), anything approaching libertarianism is strictly verboten, bourgeois. Those few academics that would propose those ideas would be quickly beset with class-speak from their peers.

Perhaps if the whole of academia was less dependent on the state they wouldn’t be so inclined towards educational fundamentalism and thus reconsider libertarian thought without the strawmen and social stigma.

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Fear God, Honor the King, Then Show Him Your Plasma Rifle

The Mises website ran a piece today on libertarian science fiction, by pipe-lover Jeff Riggenbach. He mentions four sci-fi authors who weren’t libertarian but came across as friendly to the ideas in some way or another: Anthony Burgess, Philip K. Dick, G. William Domhoff, and Carroll Quigley (I was half-hoping to see a mention of Matthew Alexander, but we’re dealing with established heavyweights here). I haven’t read anything by these authors — no, even not A Clockwork Orange, yet — but I’d like to see how they poise, unknowingly, libertarian ideals in their fictional universe.

Libertarian Christians, somewhat coincidentally, has a lengthy read on the philosophy of Mises. So says Edmund Opitz, in a rather bold assertion (italics mine):

Classical liberalism, in other words, is the secular projection of Christian philosophy. The American Dream, as Jacques Maritain put it, kept “alive, in human history, a fraternal recognition of the dignity of man—in other words, the terrestrial hope of man (expressed) in the Gospel.” The thing called “liberalism” today, bears no resemblance whatsoever to classical liberalism; it has nothing in common with the Whiggism of Adam Smith or the liberalism of Ludwig von Mises.

Forming a strong link between classical liberalism with Christian thought is a big chunk of poli-theology. Not that I really disagree with Opitz, but the idea of rejecting the state (to some degree) is a hat too rebellion-heavy for some Christians to wear — especially those of us in “safer” nations, where citizens more observably autonomous, and the atrocious effects of the power the state holds is either well-hidden or simply felt in other countries.

Science fiction lends itself easily to libertarian ideas because the authors needs to conjure up droves of little “what if” scenarios that stretch what we already know about the observable universe. It involves a lot of deeper inductive thinking that libertarians, and particularly Misean libertarians, need to employ when answering critics: we’ve never really had, say, a bonafide anarcho-capitalist “state”, so they’d have to cobble together how things could and would work out, sans civitas. much in the same way sci-fi writers need the “what ifs” with the universe.

Libertarian and sci-fi meet more literally (heh) with dystopian sci-fi, where monopolies on power, taken to extremes, consistently spell out bad news for the world. It seems that at the heart of every dystopian future comes at the hands of the steroidal state, while the hero breaks free from the totalitarianism with some form of freedom. I don’t think it’s necessarily a consciously-made connection made by the authors; I’m sure some sci-fi writers have been huge Commies (Wells comes to mind), or some other devious form of state-adoring ideology. Though, just makes intuitive sense that the entity poised to bring about a dystopia would be the only one that has the monopoly on sanctioned, coercive power.

Okay, so what does Christianity-laced libertarianism have to do with science fiction? If I may be as tentatively bold as Opitz, I would say that a Christian who isn’t ultimately, “at the end of the day”, a libertarian, has some serious flaws in their belief system. I say this because a Christian absolutely must choose God over the state, if faced with the choice — and we must eventually make that choice. It’s God or something else, something lesser, and He’s made it clear that there’s no wiggle room. This is the obvious end of things given the central doctrines of Christianity, but I understand some (most?) Christians, while here on earth, have been socialized with the love of the state and don’t see worldly governments the way libertarians do, so I don’t regard this idea as heavyweight: I hold it in my hand but I don’t close my fist around it.

So, the fiction part: I, armed only with a surface knowledge of sci-fi, haven’t come across any books with a story that links the Christianity part with the libertarian part. At least, to a thorough extent, but it strikes me as a wonderful foundation for a story. There may be something out there, but I have not come across it, and this high-level idea is a story germ for a novel of mine that is quickly growing. I just hope that this idea eventually ends up in a much more capable author’s hands than mine.

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Dear Children: I’m Dead, Here’s A Bunch of Computer Files

The “blogosphere” (aka: the blogs in my subscription queue) has been “buzzing” about the state of e-publishing, about self-publishers who have struck it rich with their e-book, and these stories are complementary goods to the insistent posts forewarning everyone that the old guard publishing industry is really, really e-worried about this and should really, really be e-rethinking their business model right now.

After sticking it to enraged Luddites the world over by going digital with all of the wife’s and my music, I’m still holding out on the e-book thing. Besides the space saving factor, I’m seeing the major advantages of e-readers is the quickness and cheapness compared to physical book purchases. But those advantages only go so far and for me it doesn’t push quite over the line.

The secondary reason of having all your books in one place is irrelevant to me. Unless you’re a research student or an argumentative, overbearing bibliophile-type, you’re not going to need your whole library to go mobile. If you’re reading more than two or three books at a time for pleasure, you need a psych evaluation more than you need an e-reader.

Neither am I stuck on the tactility advantage of books, although I don’t mind it terribly. I just mainly like the idea of buying something once and that’s it. No need to charge anything or fix anything or upgrade to the Latest Razor-thin Internet Device™ or back anything up in my underground shelter in case every copper wire in the world melts simultaneously. Languages and narrative are among the last few things left in this world that are mostly technology-independent and I gosh darn well don’t feel like having to rely on a handful of blunted plastic and the eastern American electrical grid to enjoy them.

Then there’s the other matter of leaving a library behind for the little one and the littler one coming soon. There’s something anti-climactic about mentioning “all those PDFs and .azw files on that one external hardrive in the basement,” in my will. But by the time I’m dead and gone, would things have changed so much technologically to make this a non-issue?

My reluctance is subjective, though; I’m sure there were some horse-and-buggy riders that were unreasonably attached to horses. I just haven’t been conditioned enough yet to happy with switching over. Committing to an e-reader now would be like eating chili made by a cook with a zealous hot sauce wrist: yeah, it’s good but I’m too busy trying to control my involuntary muscle reflexes from the spiciness instead of actually enjoying it. Who wants to read a whole novel with indigestion? Not me.

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Another Use for Books Besides Table Levelling

Lew Rockwell had a post or two on Google’s newish ngram app, which can search and graph the frequency of words from books (those things that are like websites on paper) that Google has scanned — because, you know, the information Google has amassed already isn’t frightening enough.

I did a multiple search on these terms: liberty, government, freedom, jesus, beatles, beetles, google, schadenfreude, and gonads. I guess the trick is, when searching groups of words, is to leave out the words that wreck the curve. In this example, as in the non-Google real world, we see government making a mess of things.

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Dude, You Write Like a Girl

In my current work in progress the protagonist is an early-twenties female, and more than a few times I had to stop myself and ask, “Would someone of her cultural makeup actually do/say that?”, and the fact that it’s in first person makes this issue much more crucial. And it brings up the entire issue of how unique should your character?

You see, in character-driven stories in the first person, I would think that there has to be some unnaturalness about the protagonist. You don’t want to be reading the story of someone who typifies their demographic. Stories are about something or someone unusual, not expected, so there has to be some quirks that smudges our expectations — without taxing the reader by stretching the suspension of disbelief too far.

Then there’s the looming criticism of the feministas-lite — I didn’t make the woman strong enough, she’s too subservient to the male paradigm, and by the way, what does a man know about how a woman thinks? This might be a purely conjectured (paranoid) prediction on my part, but let’s face it: the woman’s market for fiction is pretty big, and this is somewhat of a romance novel so this kind of complaint could be on the horizon. The idea that certain thoughts or actions belong to certain genders is worthy of ridicule, but since feminism has had a good few decades of making everyone feel guilty and battering-ramming the cultural roles of the sexes (whoops! I’ll have to edit that out later), this reluctance for someone like me in writing from a woman’s point of view is automatic. Feminist critique serves as an ankle-strapped minirevolver in the critical arsenal of over-imaginative reviewers; sexism can be read into a wad of chewing gum. I’m not too worried about it, ultimately, though I haven’t completely sloughed off the socialization.

So, do men and women inherently think differently, or are they only tendencies — and are these tendencies genetic or cultural/subcultural? I don’t know gender theory, nor do I care to really delve into a subject foisted by remorseful universities with too much public funding, but it is worth thinking about. In fiction, as long as it’s within the realm of the believable universe, the author can make anyone think or do anything. Regardless, someone, somewhere will have a problem with it.

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